Archive for Wells Cathedral Choir

2010’s Best

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

As we wind down 2010, here are some recordings that I think are true standouts. Yes, there’s a lot of contemporary music here, but it’s my list and I could put whatever I want on it. What were some of your 2010 favorites?

Bach on a Steinway
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
(Steinway & Sons)
Biegel adds his own tasteful and very well-conceived ornamentation to these familiar works. His touch is lithe and phrases sing beautifully throughout.

Choral Music by Jonathan Dove
Wells Cathedral Choir; Wells Cathedral Chapel Choir; Jonathan Vaughan, organ
Matthew Owens, conductor
Jonathan Dove’s choral music continues to impress and this is a superb sampling of his work. There are a few Christmas pieces and a Missa brevis setting that deserves its place in the repertoire of good church choirs. The Wells Cathedral Choir is building quite an excellent discography on the always superb Hyperion label and this is another winner.

Henri Dutilleux: D’ombre Et De Silence
Robert Levin, piano
This one took me by surprise. I always thought of Levin as the fortepianist who recorded Mozart and Beethoven concertos with the Academy of Ancient Music. Of course, he’s more than that. Dutilleux’s piano music is wonderfully eclectic with its occasional whispers of Debussy, birdsong (not quite à la Messiaen) though) and pungent quality that is marvelous. Levin plays the hell out of all of it and ECM nails the piano sound perfectly.

St. John’s Magnificat – Choral Works by Herbert Howells
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge
Andrew Nethsingha, director
Howells and St. John’s, how can you go wrong? A Sequence for St. Michael is a dramatic motet with striking choral writing and an extended solo for tenor is a scene-stealer, but there’s plenty more here to love.

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives
Jeremy Denk, piano; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute
(Think Denk Media)
It’s really nice to have both sonatas on one disc. Denk is brilliant and pulls together all the elements of this music that is at times brash, tender, dissonant and sweet. It’s all so American and I love it.

Magnus Lindberg: Graffiti; Seht Die Sonne
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo, conductor
Ancient Roman graffiti set to music? If anybody can pull it off, Lindberg can. Lindberg weaves some lean but extremely colorful orchestral writing around a rather eclectic vocal style that has some echoes of Britten and, more obviously, Orff. It is brilliant at every turn, as are the performances.

James MacMillan: Visitatio Sepulchri; Sun-Dogs
Netherlands Radio Choir; Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
James MacMillan, conductor
Another deeply moving MacMillan work rooted in his deep Christian faith. Sensitive choral and orchestral writing with flashes of drama make this a very compelling recording. How come his music doesn’t get more performances in the U.S.?

Arvo Pärt: Symphony No. 4; Kanon Pokajanen: Fragments
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Esa-Pekka Salonen; Tönu Kaljuste, conductor
Pärt’s gorgeous meditation is slow-moving, lyrical and powerfully affecting. Truly music to soothe the soul.

The Glass Chamber Players
(Orange Mountain Music)
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Glass’s Sextet for Strings sit beside each other very nicely on this recording by the newly formed Glass Chamber Players. The performance has immediacy and fire and makes me want to hear much more from the ensemble.

Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Works
Kiev Chamber Choir
Mykola Hobdych, conductor
I love works that are at core traditional but take little turns that surprise. These a cappella works are rooted in Eastern liturgy but Silvestrov’s gift for introducing fascinating harmonic twists make them anything but conventional. Blend the reverberant acoustic of Kiev’s Cathedral of the Dormition into the mix and you have something otherworldly and piercingly beautiful. Serve this one up with the Pärt disc mentioned above and you will enter some ECM-induced beatified state. I like it there.

I hated the job but loved the music

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

One of the worst jobs I ever had led me to some of the greatest music I ever heard. I worked for a notable publisher affiliated with a revered English university whose music division specialized in choral music. The publisher was over 600 years old and most of their business practices dated from about the same period. Petty factions stabbed at each other like Yorkists and Lancastrians and none of those involved were as entertaining as Richard III. What did I gain from my four year term with the company? The best thing was being introduced to the music of Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988), William Mathias (1934-1992) and Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962).

If you worship in an Anglican church with a good music program you might know Leighton and Mathias’s choral music. Leighton’s Easter Sequence is frequently performed and Mathias’s “A Babe is Born” pops up on many Christmas Lessons and Carols services. Both composers excelled in every genre. Leighton’s Suite ‘Veris Gratia’ for oboe, cello and strings is a neglected masterpiece whose absence from the concert hall is criminal. He also left a great collection of solo instrumental music and superb choral works. Outside of the church, Mathias has suffered the same neglect. He is best remembered for his sacred choral music but also wrote three excellent symphonies, an excellent Harp Concerto and some of the finest organ music of his day.

Jackson is one of the most exciting voices of our day. His choral music embraces the great Anglican tradition but there are also whispers of Stravinsky, Poulenc and Tavener that make for a very compelling sound. Jackson says, “I try to write music that is clean and clear in line, texture and structure; my pieces are made of simple melodies, chords, drones and ostinatos. They are not about conflict and resolution; even when animated, they are essentially contemplative. I like repetition and ‘ritualized’ structures. Much of my work reflects an interest in Medieval techniques and ideas—I am particularly drawn to the ecstatic, panconsonant music of the early Tudor period. For me, music is the most powerful medium for transcendence, and in several pieces I have attempted a spiritual response to the great technological miracle of our time—powered flight.”

The choral music of these three composers can be heard on three must-have new recordings on the Hyperion Records label:



Kenneth Leighton
The World’s Desire
Wells Cathedral Choir
Matthew Owens, conductor
Hyperion CDA67641


One of England’s very best cathedral choirs in a program that includes three premiere recordings.




William Mathias
Choral Music
Wells Cathedral Choir
Matthew Owens, conductor
Hyperion CDA67740



Another winner from the Wells Cathedral Choir, includes the premiere recording of “In Excelsis Gloria.”




Gabriel Jackson
Not no Faceless Angel
Stephen Layton, conductor
Hyperion CDA67708



Polyphony, the finest choir on the scene, sing Jackson’s mesmerizing music. Jump right to the third track, “Cecilia Virgo” and you will understand why there is such a buzz about Jackson.



The “What I Gained From My Lousy Job” Playlist


Suite ‘Veris Gratia’ [Chandos]

Organ Concerto [Chandos]

Complete Organ Music [Priory]



Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 [Nimbus]

Lux Aeterna [Chandos]

Organ Music [Nimbus]



Sacred Choral Music [Delphian]